Local innovations gather dust in shelves thanks to regulation bottlenecks

George Fundi (left) displays a gas leak detector while Ambrose Mwango showcases a phone signal detector during the Nairobi Innovation Week. Costly and complex regulatory processes are a major stumbling block to commercialisation of products invented locally, Smart Company has learnt. PHOTO | JAMES KARIUKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Costly regulatory bottlenecks make it difficult for investors to partner with the institution to produce the items in mass quantities.
  • Mr Wamalwa called on government agencies to ease processes that impede production of new products.
  • Mr George Fundi showcased a cooking gas leak detector that is meant to reduce risks of fire outbreaks.
  • Prof Mbithi said Kenyans should change their attitude and embrace local goods and services.

Costly and complex regulatory processes are a major stumbling block to commercialisation of products invented locally, Smart Company has learnt.

A forum in Nairobi heard that many ingenious innovations are gathering dust on shelves as the current legal framework has loopholes on certification of such products and their approval for public sale.

Innovators at the Nairobi Innovation Week said because of the legal bottlenecks, many prototypes wait for too long before getting regulatory approval.

One such invention is by San’galo Technical Training Institute.

The college wowed judges at the 2015 national technical and vocational institutes’ exhibition in Nairobi with their cooking gas project.

So amazing was their innovation that they clinched a funding deal to upscale it for possible commercialisation.

However, regulatory hurdles have resolutely stood in the way.

This, however, did not stop the college from being innovative.

This year, the institution was at it again, this time with a solar-powered lawn mower that sailed through to the national levels and received many recommendations for up-scaling.

Despite all these ground-breaking projects, the college is yet to translate them into commercial products. Reason?

REGULATORY BOTTLENECKS

The stringent maze of costly regulatory bottlenecks which make it difficult for investors to partner with the institution to produce the items in mass quantities.

“We have since applied to the Kenya Intellectual Property Institute (KIPI) for patent and are waiting for one for the lawnmower but we have inventor rights for the LPG cooking gas plant,” said Mr Peter Wamalwa, senior lecturer in charge of mechanical engineering.

“Now Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has told us to produce more gas to facilitate rigorous tests ahead of commercialisation.”

While the public institution received funds from the National Council of Science and Technology Institute to undertake the gas project, regulatory processes remain a major barrier.

Speaking when he exhibited the lawnmower at the Nairobi Innovation Week, Mr Wamalwa called on government agencies to ease processes that impede production of new products saying agencies should not block Kenyans from starting factories that create jobs for locals.

Another invention that is sadly stuck in the rut is that of Mr Ambrose Mwango, a graduate of electrical engineering from the University of Nairobi.

Sang'alo Technical Training Institute's senior lecturer Peter Wamalwa (right) shows a Nairobi Innovation Week attendant a solar powered lawn mower's blade. PHOTO | JAMES KARIUKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

PHONE SIGNAL DETECTOR

He has designed a phone signal detector that can be used in prisons and in hospitals but is yet to take it to the next level due to lack of a forum to showcase it.

“Our prison warders would spend less time searching for mobile phones since the gadget will detect any incoming or outgoing call or text message,” he said.

Prisoners are not allowed to have phones in the cells, but some have been possessing them illegally and using them to commit crimes in conjunction with their accomplices outside prison.

Mr Mwango said in an hospital environment, the gadget, which he has priced at Sh1,500, could also help save lives by discouraging use of mobile phones in sensitive areas such as intensive care and high dependency units.

The signal detector could be installed outside a cell corridor so that it sends a signal to the control room every time a call is made or text message sent.

At the College of Engineering and Architecture booth, Mr George Fundi showcased a cooking gas leak detector that is meant to reduce risks of fire outbreaks within homes and in kitchens of institutions.

The gadget, which costs Sh1,000, has an LPG gas sensor, which triggers an alarm when it detects a leakage prompting action from the user.

The Innovation Week chairman Dr Tony Omansa called on industrialists and government agencies to embrace local innovations saying it is time Kenyans consumed their own products.

“We want is to encourage students to develop their ideas into viable products that solve problems or help revolutionise the way we do things, reducing costs in the process.

“Universities must become hubs for innovators and a link between industry and academia,” he said.

HOME-GROWN SOLUTIONS

University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Prof Peter Mbithi said the institution is focused on providing home-grown and commercial solutions to various challenges afflicting the society.

He called for financiers to help achieve this goal.

The university has established a centre, C4DLab to nurture start-ups.

At the hub, students are helped to conceptualise their ideas and products before they present them to potential investors.

The incubation lab is based at the School of Computing and Informatics and can be used by both the university community and outsiders.

At the innovation fair, IT students showcased various software applications that simplify industrial processes.

The software, they said, can be tailored to meet clients’ specific needs.

IMPEDIMENTS

Start-ups who exhibited locally made products and services said foreign goods and services are the major impediment to industrial revolution in Kenya.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who attended the show, vouched for local products and services saying Kenya’s economy would be immensely strengthened if local companies and public entities bought local products.

There were about 7,300 participants comprising enterprise owners, chief executives, government top officials and cabinet secretaries as well as academicians.

The government committed Sh100 million for the 2017 Innovation Week slated for early March.

Prof Mbithi said viable start-ups should be funded and private companies should partner with them to foster the creation of new enterprises.

HOLD MORE FAIRS

President Kenyatta called on all universities to hold such fairs saying it is from such events that solutions that would help reduce costs of healthcare, enhance agricultural production and reduce cost of financial inclusion would be found.

He said one does not need to invent something new but could come up with a cheaper way of doing things and that way improve livelihoods.

Prof Mbithi said Kenyans should change their attitude and embrace local goods and services.

“Our attitude must transit from foreign-inclined products and services and deliberately buy locally available products.

“This will see more enterprises formed where Kenyans will get jobs to drive development on their individual fronts while revenue for national development will increase,” he said.

The President urged ministries and the private sector to closely engage universities in seeking solutions to societal problems and in the development of products.

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